In biological classification, family (Latin: familia, plural familiae) is a taxonomic rank. Exact details of formal nomenclature depend on the Nomenclature Code which applies.
- Example: "Walnuts and Hickories belong to the Walnut family" is a brief way of saying: the Walnuts (genus Juglans) and the Hickories (genus Carya) belong to the Walnut family (family Juglandaceae). The classifications of taxonomy are life, domain, kingdom (biology), phylum, class (biology), order (biology), family (biology) genus, and species
History of the concept
Family, as a rank intermediate between order
, is a relatively recent invention.
The term familial was coined by French botanist Pierre Magnol in his Prodromus historiae generalis plantarum, in quo familiae plantarum per tabulas disponuntur (1689) where he called families (familiae) the seventy-six groups of plants he recognised in his tables. The concept of rank at that time was still in statu nascendi, and in the preface to the Prodromus Magnol spoke of uniting his families into larger genera, which is far from how the term is used today.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, however, the term has been consistently used in its modern sense. Its usage and characteristic ending of the names belonging to this category are defined in the Codes of botanical and zoological nomenclature.
Almost all families are named for a type genus, and are formed by adding the ending -idae (animals) or -aceae (plants) to the stem of the genus name. Exceptions are:
- Caprifoliaceae, Aquifoliaceae, and Fabaceae, named for their type species Lonicera caprifolium, Ilex aquifolia, and Vicia faba.
- Theaceae, named for Thea, a synonym of Camellia.
- Eight families of plants with alternate names. Fabaceae is also called Leguminosae, Poaceae Gramineae, etc.
- Elapidae. The type genus is Homoroselaps, which was originally named Elaps but was temporarily moved to a different family and the name changed as a result.